Turning adversity into success

What started out as a financial crisis decades ago turned into a successful winery, Barristers Block in Adelaide Hills.

What started out as a financial crisis decades ago turned into a successful winery, Barristers Block, thanks to the dedication and expertise of owner and founder, Jan Allen. Adam McCleery writes.

Barristers Block in the Adelaide Hills has built a reputation as a winery that provides more than just wine to the market, but a great experience for guests as part of its Cellar Door added value.

Barristers Block owner and founder, Jan Allen, said the idea of the winery started out of necessity when the last recession tore through the agricultural sector of Australia.

At the time Allen was involved in farming sheep and cattle, but as the recession hit many farmers in the region saw their businesses collapse.

Allen knew her options were limited and the land she owned in the Adelaide Hills was worth very little on its own.

“If we couldn’t make money out of cattle and sheep, we had to look at alternatives. We approached some people and put forth a joint venture opportunity,” said Allen.

“There were management investment scheme benefits and we were part of that initial drive to steer away from cattle and sheep. I had lots of experience in the wide industry, so we decided to move into that space.”

Allen had extensive experience working in the wine industry and used that background to help launch what would become Barristers Block in 1997.

“We started from the ground up, from planting right up to working with some of the best wine makers in the world,” said Allen.

“We are incredibly competitive in Australia which is something few people understand.

“You need a bucket load of money to get it going, which I didn’t have, which is why we did a joint venture.”

“It was not an easy journey, but it was a journey we knew we either stuck with, and make it a success, or you go with something you don’t know and hope you succeed.”

The gamble paid off your Allen, as Barristers Block continued to grow.

A recent acquisition by Barristers Block adds to its wine tourism model.
A recent acquisition by Barristers Block adds to its wine tourism model.

“I’ve had such an interesting journey with this. A couple of things, being female on my own was a challenge, and I broke ground in the male dominated area,” said Allen.

“A lot of people weren’t prepared to do that and make it work. I couldn’t have sold my land because it was worth nothing at that time. It was a difficult position to be in.”

“I knew what I was doing, and I think I was ahead of my time in terms of wine tourism. The industry was selling bulk wine and weren’t value adding it.

“My focus was to try and add value to the product rather than being a grape price taker. We weren’t makers of prices but takers. You aren’t being paid for the value of the product.

“I turned that around and realised if I sold grapes off it wouldn’t work, so I changes it into a model of selling wine and value adding with a cellar door experience.”

Allen said as the company grew, along with the Cellar Door concept, word spread quickly about the product and the winery.

“Making high quality wine is entrenched in our DNA and creating a welcoming space to enjoy this wine in a beautiful environment is at the heart of our experience at Barristers Block,” she said.

It took decades of hard work and determination from Allen to build the company into what it has become today, and she credits her work, extensive experience in the industry, and valuable mentors, for the growing success.

“There’s a couple of points to this. When I worked for wineries, I had many jobs including looking after logistics, and everything from bottling to ordering and packaging,” she said.

“I did all of it for so many years which gave me the experience I needed to make this work.

“When I was working for a New South Wales company in 1984, I saw how companies would take various staff members to other regions to learn, and I learned the value of wine tourism in the Hunter Valley, and that was way before it’s time.

“They had a bakery and restaurant and winery, lunches, wine tastings. We didn’t have that to the same extent in South Australia.

The germ of the idea for Barristers Block’s wine tourism model was born. “I realised to start in a flooded market was you must have a point of difference, having the best wine isn’t enough because there is fabulous wine in Australia,” said Allen.

Recently, Barristers Block acquired Boston Bay Wines in Port Lincoln to build on their successful wine tourism model.

“That’s why this property we bought enabled us to offer many different facets, from our wines to the local scenery,” said Allen.

“We did the house for people to stay on the property, it was hard work. We are offering a destination and feel that is what people are interested in.”

The wine tourism model has proven to be a success for Barristers Block.
The wine tourism model has proven to be a success for Barristers Block.

Allen said being able to provide the value-add of the wine tourism experience to customers for a key pillar for Barristers Block.

“What we need to do is offer our value-added product to the widest range of direct customers as we can and if we can do that with sea views on 37 acres, then that is a big bonus.

“We have two amazingly stunning properties in two totally different region that will offer a unique experience for visitors,” she said.

“We looked at something that had opportunity, I really wanted to be in an area where locals could also be a part of the experience, and to be family friendly.

“It is an extension of our own hospitality in our family. That is how I built the business, with people getting to know me and our business.”

Allen said she truly felt consumers were seeking more than just wine, but an experience, and that an experience was more likely to lead to brand loyalty.

“We have a great team of wine makers in Adelaide hills who concentrate on making the best wines and I think the consumer wants to know more about wine,” she added.

“They are always hungry to know more, and I find when I conduct tastings and speak with people and help educate them.

Barristers Block partners with local bottling and packaging facilities to help pack its product, mainly due to the difficulty of EPA approvals.

However, Allen said the ex-pert wine making industry in the Adelaide Hills made easy to work with partners.

“The Adelaide Hills are highly EPA regulated, it is one of the most difficult places to get a winery licence, so we utilise a contract facility which we believe is best for us now, given the EPA and council rulings on this, we concentrate what we do best right now,” said Allen.

It’s not something we haven’t looked into though.”

Allen said focusing on the foundation of quality wine in a family friendly setting would continue to be a main focus for Barristers Block moving forward.

“You just have to focus on what you do, and as a family this is what we do,” added Allen.

Allen said the family was excited to see how the Boston Bay Wines acquisition would build upon its wine tourism model.

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